It’s a common question that teenagers and their parents ask. Active teenagers who play sports are commonly under pressure to improve and find an edge in some way, especially those who play a relatively high level and hope to play elite sport in the future. Many teenagers are also interested in improving their physical fitness and making healthy changes in their body composition. At the same time, parents are typically concerned about strength training during the teenage years and whether it potentially impairs growth. So the question remains - Is it safe for teenagers to lift weights?
A consensus statement was published in 2014 to answer this question. This was an article published in a medical journal, and contains the professional opinions agreed upon by clinicians around the world who are highly regarded experts on this topic. Their statements are based on the best available research, and in many cases they are themselves conducting the research - so there is nobody better to give professional opinions on the topic!
The following are the key points from the article:
Despite the traditional fears that strength training may limit skeletal growth and maturation, this age is an opportune time to improve bone mass and bone structure by participating in strength training. Strength training does not injure the growth plates of bones and does not limit the general growth of teenagers
From a performance perspective, research has shown that strength training improves muscle strength, power, running speed, change-of-direction speed, general physical performance and reduces sports-related injury risk in adolescents
In terms of general health, research shows that strengthtraining improves overall body composition, reduces body fat, improves blood sugar management in overweight teens, improves heart function in obese teens and improves bone mineral density
Those who have positive early experiences in physical education are much more likely to have better life-long physical activity and may improve long-term health and fitness
Athletic/training experiences must be taken into account by coaches and trainers who are responsible for designing and supervising strength training programs, especially older adolescents who are approaching adulthood but have little experience in strength training. In other words, adolescents who have been relatively sedentary previously may require closer supervision and spend longer practicing simpler movements and introductory training
Strength training in adolescents should be well-constructed for a long-term and year-round commitment to prevent detraining, which can occur over an 8-12 week period
Like any physical training, attention must be paid to sound technique during all exercises
Regardless of age, they must be mature enough to accept and follow directions
Bodyweight, free weight, machine weight and elastic bands have all proven to improve strength in teenagers. Free weights are preferred over machine weights as free weight training has more muscle activation, as long as they are technically proficient enough to train with free weights
Teenagers who are more experienced and more technically competent may perform plyometric exercises
Teenagers who are inexperienced should begin with low volume (1-2 sets) and low weight (less than 60% 1-rep max). Multi-joint movements should be performed with fewer reps (1-3 reps) with feedback during each repetition to ensure correct and safe movement as multiple repetitions of these more complex movements with poor technique can be counterproductive for motor control development, especially if the movement has just been introduced
Young females who do not participate in resistance training are more likely to develop injury risk factors later in life. Those who do have safer and stronger movement mechanics and have decreased injury rates, including ACL (knee) injury
Physical activity which includes resistance training can improve psychological well-being, mood and self-esteem
Excessive resistance training without adequate recovery can lead to overtraining issues involving the psychological, neurochemical and hormonal systems
In summary, resistance training does not stall skeletal growth in adolescents and has many benefits ranging from physical to psychological when performed with good technique and supervision.
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